Betty, Rose and Willow (sometimes with their buddies Bodie, Cooper and Socrates), February 2018-August 2019, very special friends. (Have fun in Colorado Willow- we will miss you!!)
Just like people dogs have varied and unique interests, talents, needs, and drives, with a strong capacity to communicate with us, and with each other. The traditional focus on "commanding" dogs creates barriers to communication, at the same time failing to support each dog's individuality and unique spirit. By seeking instead to foster deeper and richer communication with our dogs, through a combination of positive reinforcement strategies and relationship building, we are better able to meet their needs, support their interests, develop their talents, at the same time promoting positive behavior.
Verbal and non-verbal human cues are a key component of communication with dogs. Through repetition, consistency, and experiences dogs learn to respond to our cues. Treats, praise, and toys are effective positive reinforcement rewards to use when teaching cues, especially in the initial learning stages. Once dogs have learned a cue however, communicating praise, appreciation, and love, both verbally and non-verbally most often can replace the need for a food or toy reward.
For example, we may ask a group of dogs to wait before jumping out of the car each day. With repetition and consistency dogs will learn the cue. With experience their innate intelligence, empathy, and intuition allow them to understand that “wait” fosters safety and order. Dogs learn to stay with you during outings, even in more chaotic environments such as dog parks and fields. It is not merely verbal cues and experience that encourage them to stay with you, but more importantly the positive bond and connection you share. All of these positive interactions are possible with the fostering of solid communication.
Listening to our dogs
We can only develop solid communication with dogs when listening becomes mutual and reciprocal. If we expect our dogs to “listen” to us we must consistently and wholeheartedly "listen" to them.
We express ourselves to dogs though words (such as sit, stay, wait, hello, let’s go, with me, good job…), actions (eye-contact, physical cues, our movement, play, smiles, affection…), and our energy.
Dogs express themselves to us and to each other through their actions, body language and energy. They let us know when they need to exercise or rest, play or sit in the shade, drink water or share some love. They let us know when they like another person or dog, and when they don’t. When we “listen” to our dogs by deeply observing what they may be expressing through their actions, body language, and energy, our bonds and communication become richer and stronger.
For example, you have a dog who always loves playing with friends in the dog park. One day they urgently paw at the gate while making eye contact with you. It is clear that their behavior is a form of communication. For some reason in that moment they urgently want to leave the park. Listening in that moment involves observing, analyzing and responding with love. You decide to trust their instincts and listen to their request to leave the park. You return to the dog park the next day and end up having an awesome afternoon of play.
Dogs are more likely to listen to us when we steadfastly listen to them. This is because they know when we understand and meet their needs, they know when we celebrate their uniqueness, they know when communication is mutual and reciprocal. In addition, when we listen to dogs we will undoubtedly tap into their intelligences and talents. Dogs, for example, are able to sense and pick up on things that we don't. Our charge is to listen to them, to learn from them, and to try our best to understand.
Building a Foundation of Love
At the center of all solid communication is love. True love can only be fostered when we fully and wholeheartedly embrace another for who they are. The more traditional "command and obey" approach often aims to create a "perfect" dog. Just as we wouldn’t expect a person to be "perfect", we also shouldn’t expect a dog to be "perfect". There is no room for perfectionism or command in a loving relationship. Although we may use rewards and strategies to promote positive behaviors, in the end the love and bonds that grew through solid communication will be most important, meaningful, and effective.
Many dog experts have rejected the traditional "command and obey" approach to working with dogs, choosing to focus instead on communication and teaching dogs to make good choices. Some of my personal favorites are Tamar Geller, https://theloveddog.com/, "a life coach for dogs and their people," and Victoria Stillwell, https://positively.com/.
Also, check out Victoria Stillwell's fantastic online article "Why I don't use commands in dog training."
(Photo 1: Rose, Betty, and Janet, Photo 2: Socrates, Bodie, Betty, Rose, and Robyn (Cooper and Willow behind), Photo 3: Jaime, Jackson, and Janet, Photo 4: Bodie and Cooper, Photo 5: Willow and Betty, Photo 6: Rose and Daisy, Photo 7: Janet, Bodie, Socrates, Betty and Rose running)
Blog by Robyn/Photos by Janet and Robyn
"Wait time" is a mutual, patient, loving, communicative experience. “Wait” can be one of the most vital components of a dog’s (and human's) vocabulary. Dogs who unflinchingly respond to “wait” are empathetically, reciprocally and sometimes urgently communicating with their human companion. “Wait time” ensures that every outing with our dogs will be safer and smoother. In addition, periodic “wait” moments provide dogs and their humans the time and space to pay closer attention to one another, enhancing our bonds and understanding.
"Wait" is one of the easiest cues to teach. Simply begin by asking your dog to “wait” often, before exiting or entering any location (car, house, park), before throwing a ball, beginning a tug of war match, offering a toy, providing a meal, or continuing to walk. Frequent use of the "wait" cue, applied in conjunction with “let’s go” during walks, off leash excursions, and dog park outings, attunes your dog to you even in chaotic surroundings. Dogs quickly begin to know both through these experiences, and intuitively, that our mutual "waiting" creates calm, safe, positive energy.
Here are a few reasons for the unique power of “wait.”:
Wait is necessary
At street corners and traffic lights, while driving, during off leash adventures, when exiting or entering any location, wait is a vital component of safety and well-being.
Wait is effective
Whether your goal is impulse control, loose leash walking, recall or teaching/practicing tricks, frequent use of the wait cue effectively calms your dog, elicits their attention, and maintains their focus on you when necessary.
Wait is a reciprocal experience:
“Wait” is unique to other cues as it is a reciprocal experience. It is equally important for humans to “wait” for dogs as it is for dogs to wait for us. When we provide ongoing "wait" time during outings, to sniff or choose a route during walks or finish a great wrestling match or game of chase at the park, dogs pick up on and appreciate our patience.
When we quietly observe dogs' behavior (rather than immediately labeling it a problem and redirecting them) we can determine what they may be communicating or need. Dogs are more likely to listen to and wait for us when they know we will steadfastly wait for and listen to them, deepening our bonds and understanding
Wait is patient, loving and kind
Dogs are caring, intelligent, empathetic creatures. They can quickly begin to realize that you ask them to wait for their well-being and yours. Dogs may for example see the chaos they create when rushing out of a car or across a street. By making direct eye contact with your dog while asking them to “wait” your communication and mutual understanding become even deeper. Dogs begin to “wait” not merely because they understand the cue, but because they are both attuned to and drawn to the reciprocal love and kindness in the mutual “wait” experience.
Photo 1: Millie, Photo 2: Bodie, Rose and Betty, Photo 3: Betty, Photo 4: Harvey, Photo 5: Roscoe, Photo 6: Willow, Rose, and Betty
The Benefits of Tug
Some of the richest moments I have shared with dogs have been moments of tug.
For this reason I was immediately drawn to Bobbie Bhambree’s fantastic online article entitled “Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about tug of war,” which I highly recommend (https://positively.com/contributors/everything-youve-ever-wanted-to-know-about-tugging/)
Bobbie Bhambree, a long time dog/agility trainer and behavior consultant, reveals the benefits of tug as she experienced with her own dog Tricky, and how she was able to reignite Tricky’s tug drive. Her article can be found on Victoria Stillwell’s website http://www.positively.com.
When Tricky was a puppy her tug drive was strong. Tricky lost her tug drive as an older dog, and at the age of five Bhambree was able to bring it back. The return of Tricky’s tug drive it seems, contributed positively not only to Bhambree’s relationship with Tricky but to Tricky’s training, in this case specifically agility training.
According to Bhambree, tug drive unleashes numerous positive qualities in dogs. During a good game of tug, Bhambree asserts, “distractions fall into the background,” dogs are so fully engaged they become “in the zone,” “fully present,” with their “mind and body working in sync…” With full presence and engagement, dogs are more likely to pay attention to and feel connected with their human companion.
Igniting Tug Drive
In order to reignite Tricky’s tug drive, Bhambree used a variety of strategies to make “the toy come alive,” igniting Tricky’s instinct to treat the toy as if it were prey, at the same time building “passion” in Tricky for the toy. As a human participant, Bhambree stresses the importance of staying “fully engaged while playing with your dog,” “getting low to the ground,” and keeping “your eye on your dog” As Bhambree explains, “your dog knows when you are there with him in the moment,” increasing their engagement and drive for the tug toy.
In order to keep Tricky interested, Bhambree varied their tug games. Like many dogs Tricky became especially motivated for toys she could “chase and tug.” For this reason, when playing tug Bhambree would tease Tricky with the toy. She would “drag” it, “smack it against the ground,” “make it dance,” motivate Tricky to chase it and jump for it before allowing her to grab it, increasing Tricky’s engagement, Tricky’s motivation to play and in the process Bhambree’s bond with Tricky.
The numerous benefits of tug (exercise, redirection tool, positive reward, bonding experience) make it a deeply worthwhile and meaningful activity. Here are a few suggestions for effective, safe, and enjoyable tugging:
1. Vary Tug Games
Playing tug of war in a variety of ways, as Bobbie Bhambree illustrates clearly in her article, will make the game more interesting for your dog and you. Using longer chase toys, and making your dog run after and jump for the toy before and between moments of tug for example, will increase their motivation and engagement.
2. Immerse yourself in the game
Your ongoing eye contact, undivided attention and full presence throughout tug games will intensify your dog’s attention on you, maintain your dog’s interest, increase their drive, and in the process enhance their bond with you.
3. Keep Good Boundaries
Have fun but stop play before it becomes too rough. As Victoria Stillwell advises in her article entitled “Dog Games,” (https://positively.com/dog-wellness/dog-enrichment/dog-games/),
during tug of war it is important to teach your dog to “take it” and “drop it” so that you can retrieve the tug toy when necessary, and of course never chase your dog for a toy. Also, be ready to stop the game if tug moments develop into “rowdy play, over arousal, or mouthing.”
4. . Use Tug of War to Redirect or Grasp your Dog’s Attention
Moments of tug can be used in the same way treats are used, as a positive reinforcement reward. Initiating tug can effectively gain your dog’s attention, prompt them to follow your lead when necessary, and redirect your dog to more positive desirable behavior.
5. Initiate Play Between Dogs with Tug
Occasionally dogs need some coaxing to begin play with one another. Make them chase a tug toy then throw it or start tugging with one dog and then place your end in another dog’s mouth. Do this a couple of times if necessary until the two (or more) dogs begin play with one another.
6. Have Fun!
Without a doubt, an in synch, passionate, energized game of tug is a total blast. Never forget to have some fun!
Photo 1: Jack Photo 2: Bodie Photo 3: Betty Photo 4: Betty Photo 5: Rose
Photo 6: Jackson and Monte
Just like people dogs enjoy and even need some extra zest, to embark on an adventure, engage their minds, explore, experience, try something new. According to celebrity trainer and founder of the loved dog method, Tamar Geller, “excitement and surprises” and “mental stimulation" (http://theloveddog.com/you-and-your-dogs-7-basic-needs/) constitute two of a dog’s 7 basic needs. Providing your dog with daily activities and sporadic surprises that promote free play, ignite instinctual behavior, and stimulate their senses will, without a doubt make your dog happier, healthier, and more fulfilled. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Play dates, play groups, and dog park visits:
There is nothing more thoroughly captivating for dogs than to be immersed in play with one another. During social play, dogs communicate through eye contact and body language, utilize every part of their body during wrestling matches, freely engage in natural instinctual behavior, release excess energy, form bonds, and of course, have loads of fun! During every game of chase, hide and seek, or tug of war, which dogs naturally initiate with one another during play, a variety of unique experiences arise, offering loads of mental stimulation, excitement and surprises. Set up playgroups with your dog walker or daycare, or take your dog to a playdate or dog park. The result will be a tired and happy pup!
2. Find a new adventure or explore a different route:
Just like people, dogs love to wander new terrain. Whether you decide to take your dog to hike a state park, romp at a beach, or simply to stroll a different neighborhood route, your dog and you will appreciate and enjoy the adventure!
Walk or run with friends:
Social walks and runs provide both older and younger dogs with fun yet mellow social interaction. When walking together dogs communicate, wait for one another, sniff interesting objects and explore. Whether your dog engages in social walking through your day service or with you and some friends, group walks will, without a doubt add some extra fun and stimulation to your dog’s life.
4. Play a variety of games:
Just like children, dogs need to be engaged in a variety of games and activities in order to maintain their interest, stimulate their minds, utilize physical energy, learn, grow, and have fun. Exploring, connecting and learning through daily games and activities is a necessary component of your puppy, or dog’s, overall health and wellbeing. Use a different toy during your next game of fetch and combine it with intermittent tug of war matches, teach your dog to play soccer with you, or initiate games of hide and seek. Find interactive games at your local pet shop, such as chase toys and puzzles, or build your own. Seek new ideas on the internet. Victoria Stillwell has some great resources on the enrichment section of her website at https://positively.com/dog-wellness/dog-enrichment/. Be creative. The end result will be extra bonding and loads of fun for your dog and you!
(Photo 1: Mia and Betty Photo 2: Cooper, Betty, and Bodie, Photo 3: Jackson, Jaime, and Delilah, Photos 4 and 5: Bodie and Cooper, Photo 6: Jack, Photo 7: Betty and Roscoe, Photo 8: Cooper)